A recent Friday, 3:58 p.m.: Andres Amador looked over a rock wall at tire tracks running through the canvas that the receding tide had left on the beach below the Cliff House. A pained look came across his face.
He went back to his car, pulled out an armload of modified rakes and headed down the cliff to an area of Ocean Beach a few hundred feet north of where he had planned to work. There, the freshly packed sand was pristine but for a few faint footprints. He had roughly two hours to complete a new masterpiece before the tide would come back and erase it.
Amador, 42, took off his shoes, rolled up his pants legs and went to work. First he raked a small circle and stood in the middle, referring to designs he had sketched on index cards. Then he crouched down with tai chi-like movements to make small but precise marks in the sand around the circle.
“Nothing else is on my mind when I’m doing my artwork,” Amador said. “You can’t hear the cars. The city washes away. I kind of feel as though I’m painting. I’m using my whole body, and the end of the rake is my brush.”
Using the rake, he connected the newly plotted dots into a flowering design that grew quickly outward. A crowd gathered outside the Cliff House above to watch as Amador’s mandala-inspired piece began to cover the beach.
“It’s magic. It’s so graceful. I just became mesmerized,” said Dottie Leroux of Sausalito, who finally climbed down herself for a closer look. “I’ve been up there for about an hour, watching each layer go on. It’s simple and stunning.”
Amador was born and raised in San Francisco and studied environmental science at UC Davis. He said his grandmother always wanted a family with a doctor, a lawyer and an engineer – notice that “beach artist” isn’t on the list. His relatives ask him when he’ll get serious.
“I didn’t consider myself an artist until just a few years ago,” Amador said. “It always felt as though I was tinkering – as though I were playing with Legos – until the art started to take on a life of its own.”
When he was growing up in the Mission District, Amador never went to San Francisco beaches because he found the weather miserable. It took a trip to Hawaii in 2004 for him to realize what could await him back home.
“I got into different types of geometry around the world, such as crop circles and ancient architecture … things loosely labeled as sacred geometry,” Amador said. “I was on the beach explaining to a friend what I had been learning, and I realized that I could do these things on the beach. That could be the canvas! I couldn’t wait to get back to San Francisco.”
Now he creates large-scale sand murals he calls Earthscapes on beaches up and down Northern California. He’s been invited to festivals in England and France. Most recently he was commissioned to do a piece at a wedding in Mexico. For now, this is his only work.
“I would never have dreamed that there would be a market or an interest in this,” he said.
Amador isn’t alone in his Earthscape endeavors. His partner of six years, Ember Dequincy, 39, often stands on the sidelines, managing encroaching crowds and nervous brides – the Mexican wedding won’t be Amador’s first. She also manages the finances for the growing business. They’re expecting a child early next year.
On the beach under the Cliff House, she grabbed a rake to help as the sun went down and the light faded.
“It really makes the beach a sacred place when he comes with his designs,” Dequincy said. “I love the lifestyle – the office is on the beach, which is amazing. What else could you ask for?”
Just as the sun went down and the ocean returned to reclaim its belongings, the couple put the last touches on a mural of six flowers that swirled together across a stretch of sand the size of a football field.